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University of Adelaide
Graduate software engineer
Isaac Taylor studied a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical & Aerospace) (Honours) with a Bachelor of Mathematical & Computer Sciences. Isaac is a graduate software engineer at Saab Australia.
What's your full name and job title?
Isaac Taylor – graduate software engineer
What did you study? When did you graduate?
I graduated in 2017 with degrees in mechanical & aerospace engineering and mathematics & computer science.
Where did you grow up? Can you tell us about any work experience or previous jobs you have held?
I spent most of my life living in a country town attending a public high school before starting university straight after high school. In my penultimate year I gained work experience through the university working on a mixture of hardware and software projects, including medical sensors and an alternative electric vehicle.
I then spent a year working at Defence Science Technology Group (DSTG) building web applications before moving to Saab Australia.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
I applied for a graduate position through Saab’s website. I’ve now worked on multiple projects across different teams for the past year as the graduate program rotates us through various divisions of the business.
How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?
I always knew I wanted to create and build things, so decided to pursue engineering at university. I couldn’t choose between mechanical or software engineering, so I did both. It wasn’t until I got to my penultimate year that I noticed I was enjoying my software courses more than the others and I ended up following that passion.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
My final interview was with a senior engineer and a team lead and was a mixture of both technical and non-technical questions. I was asked to provide an example of a design pattern and when it might be used and also how I relate to the company values. After the individual interview, I joined some other candidates for a group activity to show how I work in a team environment.
What does your employer do?
Saab Australia develops a wide range of products in both the civil and defence domains. Our major products in Australia are currently the 9LV Combat Management System used by the Royal Australian Navy and the OneView integrated security system used in many Australian prisons.
What are your areas of responsibility?
Since the software we develop is so large and complex, there’s always new functionality that needs to be implemented. Generally I have responsibility over many smaller areas of the software, including communication protocols between hardware components; parts of the graphical user interface; and testing tools.
Can you describe a typical work day?
I will start the day by looking at the team’s task board to determine what the next priority task is. Once I work out what is required to complete the task, I look at what’s in place already and determine any constraints before trying to solve the problem. I then think of a design to solve the task and talk it through with a senior engineer to make sure I’m on the right track. I’ll then implement my design in small additions, testing as I go to ensure I haven’t broken anything. Throughout this process I’ll document the decisions I have made and why. Once everything has been thoroughly tested I’ll pass my work onto another team member for review.
What was the last thing you worked on?
I’ve just created a build server for a new project that builds and tests the new project overnight so new additions in the application don’t break old functionality.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
Software engineering is a very broad career. There are many different programming languages to be proficient in and each has a different purpose and use cases. You can choose to focus on one or two languages, or different types of software such as desktop or mobile development. Alternatively, there are opportunities to move into a systems engineering role to develop software systems from a much broader view.
What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
Mechanical engineering because the methods and skills required are very similar to software engineering, but with different tools needed to craft a solution.
What do you love the most about your job?
Getting to rotate through various departments during the first few years as part of the graduate program and learning different tools and processes to solve problems. Saab’s graduate school presents new topics and holds an open forum with team leaders and department managers each fortnight. The topics are varied and not limited to engineering either, which provides a great view of what the company is doing as a whole.
Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
I most enjoy developing new functionality in our software systems as it requires both creative and analytical ways of thinking to solve problems.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Are the stress levels high?
It takes a long time to work out how existing software works and that makes it hard to know where to start looking before thinking of a solution. You have to understand the work process and how to go from an idea to a completed job. As a graduate, I’m responsible for many smaller sections of code, but it’s subject to frequent reviews. This sharing of responsibility between me and the other developers helps and also builds my own skills.
Are the stress levels high? Do you have to work on weekends?
There are times when work gets busy or difficult, but it comes in cycles. However, with all of the support in place and a great workplace culture, I don’t get stressed at work. It also helps that we don’t work on weekends.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?
- Make the most of your spare time. While it feels like there is a lot on your plate, I still miss the comparatively less busy days of university now that I’m working full time.
- Find work experience early. It’s a great way to enhance your skills and as a side benefit, undertaking work experience early allows you test the waters to see if this really is the career path for you.
- Work in groups more often, even for those individual assignments. It’s a great way to learn from your peers and gain exposure to different ways of thinking.